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Unknown Knowns: The 2014 Virginia Tech Hokies

The day was December 31, 2013. The Hokies had just suffered through one of their worst bowl game losses in school history, the Sun Bowl no less, against UCLA by the score of 42-12. You could tell that no player wanted to be there, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, where players were walking to the ballcarrier, not flying around and swarming to him like they had earlier in the year. My fate as the Managing Editor of Gobbler Country had already been decided, as I had promised to devote more time to my second career, and that result, coupled with the team's 15-11 record over those two seasons that coincided with my time in charge of the site did nothing to keep me from leaving. It was my belief, and the belief of many, that Frank Beamer no longer possessed whatever it was that he had from 1992-2011, that this was the beginning of the end and that Virginia Tech would struggle mightily for the next few seasons until he stepped away. These were hard truths to come to terms with, as no Hokie fan wanted anyone more than Beamer to win with this team. But it was the truth.

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Enter Michael Brewer. Shane Beamer only discovered Brewer back in January, in a call from the competition: Clemson's Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris. Morris called Beamer to vouch for Brewer, and knowing the Hokies' quarterback issues, recommended they take a look at him. Brewer was the starting quarterback of Lake Travis High School, where he played for Morris for two years before Morris took the OC gig at Clemson. Without that phone call, Virginia Tech might never have stumbled upon Brewer, who had decided to transfer and was apparently aware of the Hokies' quarterback situation, on their own. After Saturday's win over previously No. 8 Ohio State, the Hokies are quite glad for that phone call.

In addition to Brewer taking hold of the quarterback position, the receiving corps is filled out by players that flew almost completely under the radar. Willie Byrn was a walk on, and Joshua Stanford and Demitri Knowles were lightly recruited players who were available until very late in the recruiting process. Isaiah Ford was a player who also garnered less interest than he should have (joining the Hokies after de-committing from Louisville, without too many re-recruiting struggles)  Bucky Hodges, a quarterback turned tight end, has looked like what every Hokie fan hoped Logan Thomas would be at the position, and has even taken the Greg Boone role of running the wild turkey.

Luther Maddy and Dadi Nicolas (or should we say Wedley Estime, the name he went by at the time of his commitment) were both unheralded players coming out of the Hokie hub of Atlantic High School in Delray Beach, Fl. Both players committed late in the process (in the hours leading up to signing day) and were assumed to be placeholders after the Hokies missed on several higher ranked players. Maddy made an immediate impact, and has been a mainstay of the Hokie defense for the last three years, though Nicolas, once free and clear of a legal issue that kept him away from the team, became a terror on the field starting in 2013, where he pushed a veteran-laden group for playing time, even making a start.

Ken Ekanem suffered a horrific leg injury his senior year of high school and received the Booby Miles (Friday Night Lights) treatment, seeing his scholarship offers revoked while the Hokies stood by him. Now he is their starting defensive end.

Brandon Facyson was another severely underrated prospect who out of necessity, started some for the Hokies in 2013, impressing as one of the top freshmen in the country alongside Kendall Fuller. Now he's their regular starter at corner, and gives them one of the best 1-2 tandems at the position in the college game.

The 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes were arguably the best in school history, but might have led the staff astray. Now, it appears that they have gotten back to finding those diamonds in the rough that the program was built on. Scot Loeffler, criticized for his play-calling in his rookie campaign at Virginia Tech (though not to the extent that Stinespring or O'Cain ever were), has evolved as a sophomore and opened up the field and the playbook with more passes and more plays geared to the strengths of the players who are being utilized. These are all factors of the Hokies' 2014 success to date. But also, the players listed above, and many others, have made the leap and improved beneath our noses, to form a team that is as unheralded as the 1999, 2004 and 2008 teams that might sneak in under the radar at first glance. That is until last Saturday, when they started to raise some eyes.

The questions, however, still remain: How do these players stack up against their predecessors? And how, in some cases, are they outperforming them? Is Michael Brewer better than Logan Thomas, the Hokies' all-time leading passer and projected future starting quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals? Are the receivers and tight ends that much better than a year ago? Are Luther Maddy and Dadi Nicolas better than Derrick Hopkins, James Gayle and JR Collins respectively? And how about the secondary? Are the youngest Fuller and Facyson better than Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum? How is it that this team, with its makeup, is succeeding where more experienced and stronger versions (on paper) have failed? How did they get to this point?

Obviously, with only two games played in the season, nothing is definitive, and it will take the course of the season to establish whether it is worth anointing them with that praise. But what is clear is that they're on the right path. It means that those of us prognosticators who had thought the Hokies were dead, missed our mark. The Hokies, as it turns out, were an unknown known. As former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld opined, "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. But that leaves a fourth possibility. Unknown knowns. Unknown knowns are things that you think you know, that it turns out you did not." That, so far, is an embodiment what the 2014 Hokies are: A team that we thought we knew what they were, but it turns out, we did not. As Hokie fans, we should be thankful for that.